Puerto Rico looks to solve status issue with new statehood vote
In the midst of a coronavirus crisis in which US territories receive less attention than their state counterparts, the issue of statehood has once again returned for Puerto Rico. On May 16, Governor Wanda Vázquez (NPP, R) announced that there will be a plebiscite in November on whether Puerto Rico should become a state.
There have been five previous referendums similar to this one, giving voters multiple options or questions; this is the first one to directly ask whether Puerto Rico should be immediately admitted as a state.
Holding this referendum will not guarantee statehood, however. Congress will have to approve any decision regarding the matter, and it has deliberated the issue before: in all previous referendums, Congress has taken no action. There have been bills brought forth in the House and Senate, but those too have been unsuccessful. For example, HR 2000 and S 2020 both aimed to bring this issue to debate in Congress, but never made it out of committee.
Another barrier to the effort might be Donald Trump, who has previously expressed his opinion as an “absolute no” on the issue of statehood. This could be why the referendum will not be held until November, on the same day as the presidential election.
There has also been internal opposition to the statehood movement, but the events in the past few years and recent months have accentuated some of the pro-statehood camp’s complaints. Most notably, Puerto Rico has struggled to secure disaster relief funding for rebuilding the infrastructure and economy wrecked by recent natural disasters. On top of this, the islands have had trouble receiving the same level of assistance as states from the federal government to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
In her statement regarding the decision, the governor was clear about such sentiments: “Never before in our history have we been presented with the opportunity to give such a strong mandate to the government of Puerto Rico or such a clear message to the Congress of the United States about our destiny as a people.”